At the End of the Day

Me1In a thrill-packed issue tonight, why the internet is a potential brand disaster area, has Gary Lineker got a fat salary or what, why media feminism is out of control, and where omelettes came from.

As with most organisations today, SNCF falls apart like a piece of IKEA furniture when it ventures online. Ask it to build and operate enormously complex monsters of engineering and chemins de fer, and on the whole the company ticks over like a Patek Philippe. But once placed upon the chemins d’internet, SNCF mutates into something Mickey Mouse would declare unfit for purpose.

You can come up with any old cock on the internet, so long as you don’t point out a politician’s foibles or the insane shortcomings of the average bank. And so it’s only to be expected when France’s national rail organisation leaps effortlessly from relatively honest efficacity in real life to deviously hopeless disabilty in the digital space. The digital space, you see, is run from outer space by space cadets training to become Klingons when they grow up. Perhaps we should be grateful that they never do.

C’est la saison, as they say in France; and at the moment the Summer season is gearing up to full swing. This is the moment at which all French rail fares suddenly break free from the Earth’s atmosphere and zoom off towards Planet Hermes at something approaching the speed of light. And of course, while out there they encounter Klingon Marketing Services (KMS)….which makes the experience of paying for everything through the nose not just joyless but also painful: as in the process of pulling out tonsorial growth in huge clumps.

Digital marketing people – knowing as they do three quarters of Jack Shit about how to treat the customer with respect – inject pain into the online bankrupting ticket-buying process like a Nazi doctor giving hyperthermic prisoners severe electric shocks: there is no rhyme, reason or research reason for so doing….only the sadistic ecstasy of imagining people staring at a pc screen, their chairs surrounded by hair, as in a barber’s shop.

In the labyrinthine tunnels that separate the sawdust bales of their their sub-arachnoid zones, the KMS brigade conclude that, at these prices, nobody is going to buy a rail ticket….but cheating will – obviously, right? – win them round effortlessly. So this is what they do.

To the usual ‘options’ of travelling intercity one way for just €337.3 billion, they add a train leaving one Paris suburban station (requiring 7 Metro changes to get there) at 7 am on a Sunday morning for just €10 per person. The entire French nation clicks on the option, follows it through a tedious information process involving nine site pages, and then hits the panel that says ‘go to checkout’.

But at the checkout, a divine substantiation occurs et voilà….the price says €337.3 billion.
The ten euro travel option is, we finally realise, the unicorn at the rainbow’s end in El Dorado. It is a myth, a legend, a connerie, a puff of ether that cannot be lassoed. Not even by walking in the real world to an SNCF office and trying to buy it manually. This is the conversation that unfolds – one might say “unravels” – on doing so:

Me: I want to buy the €10 intercity ticket from Paris to Bordeaux
Asst: I am desolate sir, but that is only available on the website
Me: But the website will not let me buy it
Asst: I am more desolate than the most desolately lonely prophet after wandering in the most desolate desert on the planet for forty days and nights sir, but I cannot sell it to you.

Or put another way, it is Catch Vingt-deux. I tried to fait my jeu in the Casino and win the Vingt-et-un jackpot, but I missed it by one. So near, and yet so far: like those grabs in the pier amusement arcades of my youth that looked set to pick up the diamond-encrusted fountain pen – but delivered only one jelly-bean. And then your Mum said, “Oooh, don’t eat that lovey – yer don’t know where it’s been”.

So now we’re going by air – tant pis – and thus SNCF is the loser. I’m sure that, on November 2nd, there’s a €30 fare by train with our names on it. But we will be in an Uber taxi or a hire car. Or something.

You would be amazed how many “French” phrases there are we use in English that simply don’t exist in France. Believe it or not, double entendre is one of them. The French never use it – indeed, they don’t have a clue what you’re on about when you say it. They might say “un blague ambigueux”, but not double entendre.

This still doesn’t reduce the astonishing degree to which English and French are – via the Normand link – twinned in almost everything except pronunciation. One of these is the suffix ‘ette’, which means small and/or feminine in both languages. Like, for example, omelette.

The only problem with omelette is that nobody knows any longer what an omel was. I mean, you don’t go into the Savoy Grill and ask for a ham and herbs omel. Well you might do, but it wouldn’t be a good look. They might bring back the output of an ostrich, and then where would you be? Most likely, seated behind a high tower of cooked egg. With most of it on your face.

In fact, ‘omel’ is the corruption of an earlier French word ‘amel’ meaning ‘thin dish (as in food)’, in turn from the Latin ‘Lamina’, which the Romans called ‘lammella’ to describe a small thin plate (not as in food, but as in crockery). So when today you call something an omelette, you are in fact saying “A small thin dish plate”, which is almost as silly as asking for an omel.

This is the sort of thing with which you can amaze your enemies at dinner parties. And perhaps even come up with if you’re ever asked onto the panel of QI.

And finally, BBC salaries. The Big Bananas list. “Everyone’s talking about it” says one tabloid today. Are they? I doubt it.

Having had his salary pointed out to me, £2M for Gary Lineker strikes me as excessive. It strikes me as excessive because Lineker is a nice enough young man, but adds little or no value to the BBC’s sport output – and demonstrated his trendy rather than objectively intelligent brain content during the recent Calais migrants’ nonsense.

However, the media once again seem obsessed with the gender element of it all. Give me f**king strength. ‘While John Humphrys earns £600,000-£649,999, his Radio 4 Today colleague Sarah Montague does not make the list at all’ writes the Maily Telegraph.

Humphrys is 73 years old and has over half a century of experience in press, radio and TV journalism. Montague is 51 and has been a hack for just 26 years. In trying to point out an apparent piece of BBC sexism, this airheaded observation merely underlines the inherent ageism that is a far greater cancer in our society. I would imagine Sarah earns a large six-figure sum. Good for her. Women who worked twice as long with little or no reward have had their pensions embezzled: that is a big issue.

It’d be nice to see a bit more about Waspi women in the Daily Telegraph, a little less outrage about the engorged salaries of a few celebrity media idiots, and more recognition that Humphrys’ 50 years of perspiration have produced a perspicacity that makes him worth his weight in gold to the BBC’s listeners.